Editor's note: Former New York Times golf writer Clifton Brown is joining PGATOUR.COM as a signature columnist.
By Clifton Brown, PGATOUR.COM columnist
Sergio Garcia needs a friend right now. He should call Adam Scott.
Instead of finding victory Sunday during the final two holes of THE PLAYERS Championship, Garcia found water. Three times.
The disappointing experience will test Garcia's fortitude, dealing with the kind of numbing defeat that can climb into a player's head and linger. When Garcia hit back-to-back shots into the water at No. 17, it was reminiscent of the Southwest Airlines commercial that asks, "Want to get away?"
That's why Garcia might consider seeking Scott for advice. Scott faced a similar challenge last year, after bogeying his final four holes to lose the British Open. People questioned if Scott would ever win a major. They wondered how Scott would react the next time he encountered a defining moment.
Nobody asks those questions of Scott anymore. He answered them all by winning the Masters in April. It was a brilliant performance, lifting Scott's career to a new pinnacle. Garcia was doomed by water Sunday. Meanwhile, Scott is a national hero in Australia, treated as if he walks on water.
Garcia's career could use similar boost. He left the course Sunday looking like he needed a hug. At age 33, Garcia has plenty of time to win majors, to get more cracks at Tiger Woods. But having won four times already this year, Woods has returned to dominant form. The next time Garcia finds himself in contention, he could easily find Woods waiting for him again.
Certainly, it will be compelling theatre if Garcia can keep himself on center stage.
If Garcia plays consistently well the rest of 2013, golf will be better for it. Let's face it, rivalries make sports more interesting. And Garcia and Woods are rivals. It was compelling watching Woods and Garcia paired together Saturday. Social media was buzzing. The tension between them seeped from the golf course into the viewers' living rooms. No friendly chit chat. Little eye contact. Garcia may not like being paired with Woods, but when it happens, fans like watching it, people love talking about it, and the media definitely loves analyzing it.
Garcia sounded like he was ready to put THE PLAYERS Championship behind him on Sunday, blaming what happened at No. 17 on himself, not the hole.
"That hole has been good to me for the most part," Garcia said. "Today it wasn't. That's the way it is. That's the kind of hole it is. You've got to love it for what it is."
There is no doubt Garcia has the game to keep putting himself in contention. His putting stroke looked solid at THE PLAYERS Championship. The rest of Garcia's game is rarely questioned. He has an impressive tool box -- terrific driver of the golf ball, a creative short game, the kind of talent that can stand up on any course, under any playing conditions. Since bursting onto the scene at the 1999 PGA Championship, Garcia has won 24 times worldwide, and has been a star for Europe in the Ryder Cup.
A major championship is the last piece missing from Garcia's resume. The same was true for Scott until he won the Masters. That's why it would be fun to eavesdrop on a candid conversation between Scott and Garcia. The mental side of golf is often the most challenging side. After losing at the British last year, Scott faced a tough road -- dealing with the disappointment until he got another chance. Imagine how eager Scott was to get started with 2013. Imagine all the thoughts that must have run through his mind Saturday night at Augusta, then Sunday afternoon once he finally got onto the course.
Scott was not broken by losing the British. He was strengthened by it. There is nothing Garcia can do about losing THE PLAYERS Championship, but there is still plenty he can do in 2013.
It will be intriguing to see what happens with Garcia moving forward. He took a break from golf in 2010, at a time when he was struggling with his game, feeling like he needed to get away. But this is no time for a sabbatical. The heart of the golf season is upon us, with the U.S. Open at Merion about a month away. This is a time when a golfer wants his game to be reaching its peak.
There are signs that Garcia could be trending toward a rewarding summer. He has four top-10 finishes in 2013. He seems to have found a putting stroke he can trust. Most of his 72 holes at THE PLAYERS Championship were outstanding. Through 70 holes, Garcia was right where he needed to be. Those are the holes he should dwell on, not the final two.
Just one year younger than Garcia, Scott found the confidence he needed to put last year's British behind him, and to win this year's Masters. Who knows? If Garcia can win his first major this season, it may free him to win the multiple majors that many predicted for him when he was 19.
PGA TOUR golfers are extremely competitive, but they share a bond, and often give each other advice. So the next time he speaks with Scott, Garcia should say these three words: "Free for lunch?"
Clifton Brown is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.